Adults Could be Using Diapers as Much as Infants in 10 Years


Thanks to the endless determination of parents to keep baby bottoms dry, Kimberly-Clark’s Huggies diapers brand has become a global powerhouse, with billions of dollars in annual sales. But the target consumers for one of the company’s latest diaper lines aren’t infants—or even their aged grandparents.

Instead, ads for its Depend Silhouette line of disposable incontinence briefs feature laughing, long-legged models who look barely over 40. The personal-care giant has been aggressively running the fashion-style marketing pitches in mainstream magazines and on television, because adult incontinence is a market that’s recently become too big—and lucrative—to remain in the shadows.

“We’re trying to make the product more normal, and even fun, with real people in our ads saying, ‘Hey, I have bladder leakage, and it’s no big deal,’ ” says Jay Gottleib, head of Kimberly-Clark’s adult and feminine-care business in North America.

Growth in the adult-diaper market is outpacing that of every other paper-based household staple in the U.S. Euromonitor International forecasts a 48 percent increase in sales in the category, to $2.7 billion in 2020 from $1.8 billion last year. That compares with expected growth of 2.6 percent, to $6.3 billion, during that period for baby diapers. And in only a decade, sales of diapers for adults could surpass those for babies at Kimberly-Clark and rival Procter & Gamble. As birthrates fall and life spans lengthen, the companies figure there’s plenty of room for expansion, because babies grow out of diapers, but incontinent adults usually don’t.

As many as 1 in 3 adults—more than 80 percent of them women—have bladder control issues, the Urology Care Foundation says. Causes include pregnancy and childbirth, health conditions such as diabetes and obesity, and changes that accompany aging, according to the Mayo Clinic.

To tap that market, manufacturers have rolled out marketing campaigns to make a leaky bladder seem if not fashionable, then at least not humiliating. Kimberly-Clark sponsored a free concert in New York featuring the Grammy-nominated indie pop band Capital Cities to promote its adult products. It even produced a rap video featuring Kimberly-Clark employees strutting their stuff around one of the company’s factories while wearing nothing below the waist except its adult briefs. The rap lyrics explain that incontinence hits people of all ages and encourage listeners to “drop their pants for underwareness.” The company also introduced a social media campaign to raise money for an incontinence-awareness charity.

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SOURCE: Carol Hymowitz and Lauren Coleman-Lochner
Bloomberg Businessweek